Lawyers Find Pro-Dairy Law Unconstitutional
By now, you’ve probably heard about the battle surrounding the word “milk,” which revolves around recently proposed legislation that would prohibit soymilk from being called “soymilk.” As I’ve had to explain many times now, this is not a joke. 

In fact, this legislation points to a serious lack of clarity in the FDA’s “Standards of Identity,” which provide specific guidelines for product labeling. For instance, there are set definitions for products such as bread and noodles. For years, the FDA has allowed these words to be used in combination with unstandardized terms to help describe a product. For instance, think: potato bread or rice noodles – neither of which conform to the definitions for the standardized products.  

This makes sense, since the entire point of FDA labeling guidelines is to ensure that product labels keep consumers informed. 

But recently, the meat and dairy industries have been making attempts to exploit these standards to censor and undermine their plant-based competition. 

Today, The Good Food Institute’s policy team filed an official Petition for Rulemaking with the FDA that takes direct aim at the root of the problem. 

Our petition, which we filed under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, has two main points: 

Let soymilk be soymilk! 

The goal of FDA’s labeling laws are to ensure that consumers are not confused. In our petition, GFI asserts that using commonly recognized terms such as soy and almond milk is, in fact, the least confusing way to label these products. Just imagine scanning the shelves in search of your favorite soymilk and finding it replaced with a dubious product called “bean-derived juice.” Clearly, removing common labels does not benefit consumers. And, in fact –      

Prohibiting use of the term “soymilk” is unconstitutional.

As long as a modifier is used that clearly explains what the product is—in this case, “soy,” “almond,” “plant-based,” etc.—it would be unconstitutional for the FDA to censor plant-based dairy producers from using terms such as “milk,” “cheese,” and “yogurt” on their labels. The government is only allowed to restrict commercial free speech if there is a substantial government interest in doing so. Simply pandering to the dairy industry does not qualify as a good reason, and consumers do not think that soymilk or veggie sausages come from a cow, therefore this legislation would be in violation of the First Amendment. 

Based on the legal arguments presented in our petition, if the FDA bends to Big Dairy, we will challenge the decision in court.

At The Good Food Institute, we’re dedicated to leveling the playing field for plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs. By filing this official petition, we aim to completely eliminate the misuse of the federal standards of identity that promote animal foods over plant-based alternatives. 

For more background on this legislation, check out our blog on the “Dairy Pride Act." And to learn more about GFI's work to create a just and sustainable food system, read up on what we do!

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